Meet the kids and get the backstory of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The 2016 National Scripps Spelling Bee is underway in Washington, D.C.

The annual event brings the country's strongest spellers (or at least those who haven't graduated the eighth grade) together for four days of feats of academic super-strength.

The days are long. It's stressful. And while the competitors love the challenge, it's not for the faint of heart.


All photos by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

But this event is much bigger than the small school spelling bees you may be familiar with.

Here are 15 facts about the National Spelling Bee you may not know.

1. In 1925, nine newspapers joined forces to start the bee.

2. Scripps took over in 1941, and it's still running the show today.

3. There were no spelling bees in 1943, 1944, or 1945 — it was put on hold for World War II.

4. Spellers at the bee take a preliminary test before the oral rounds begin.

To get past the preliminaries, the spellers have to earn at least 27 of 30 points on a vocabulary test. Needless to say, it's really tough. You can take it for yourself and see how you score.


5. 29 of the spellers this year have family members who've competed in the bee before.

Two of the spellers have siblings who've won the whole thing.


6. 66% of the spellers attend public school.

7. Speller Zander Reed of Ames, Iowa, is competing in the bee for the fourth time!

This is Zander back in 2013, when he could barely reach the microphone:

8. The youngest speller in the competition this year is Akash Vukoti, a 6-year-old first-grader from San Angelo, Texas.

He was on the "Steve Harvey Show" in March.

9. The competition at the bee has intensified over the years. The winning word in 1940? Therapy. The winning word in 2015? Scherenschnitte.

(Author's note: My computer doesn't recognize this as a word, but young Vanya Shivashankar from Olathe, Kansas, spelled it correctly to take home the title.)


10. If spellers miss a word — and most of them will — there's a crying couch.

It's away from the stage, and spellers can reflect with their families for a while.

11. National Spelling Bee champions are an elite group, with only 93 winners in the history of the event. There have been 48 girls and 45 boys.

12. Paige Kimble, the executive director of the event, is a former champion.

Her winning word in 1981 was "sarcophagus."

Kimble chats with a young speller at a press conference in 2012.

13. The bee's announcer, Jacques Bailly, is a former winner too. He reached out to Scripps to ask about a position, and they happened to have a need.

His winning word in 1980 was "elucubrate."


14. In the bee's history, co-champions have been crowned only five times, including 2014's and 2015's winners.

2015 co-champions Vanya Shivashankar (left) of Olathe, Kansas, and Gokul Venkatachalam of St. Louis.

15. Spelling bee champions receive $40,000 cash, $400 in reference books, and a $2,500 savings bond.

16. Oh, and no one really knows why it's called a "bee" anyway.

It's an American term, found in print in 1875, but scholars suggest it was probably around before then. It could be related to the busy, industrious nature of the insect and the way they work in teams, but no one knows for sure.

The spelling bee is an iconic celebration of language and literacy.

Whenever we can cheer kids on for pursuing the interesting and mind-expanding hobbies they love, we should. Keep it up, kids! You're all amazing!

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."